Self-Parenting in Adult Relationships

Libby Anne is one of my favorite bloggers around, particularly when she writes about positive parenting. Although I never intend to be a parent myself, I find her insights refreshing, but also applicable to all kinds of relationships beyond the parent/child one.

In a recent post about positive parenting, she had one line in particular that stuck out to me: “I would call for a different response, one where past mistakes lead not to dwelling on guilt but rather to resolve to do better in the future, and where mistakes aren’t glibly justified as acceptable rather than merely understandable.”

In this case, she’s talking about parents losing their temper with their kids. But this statement can apply to any relationship, and is just as often a problem in other circumstances: romantic relationships, friendships, or even professional relationships. People are really bad at both forgiving themselves and still taking responsibility. These two things can look contradictory. It turns out they’re actually complementary in really helpful ways.

Oftentimes we view mistakes as something that needs to be dealt with on an individual level: how do you approach your own mistakes? There are a fair number of techniques for how to deal with guilt and taking responsibility geared towards individual people. And in relationships we get some advice about mistakes when it comes to communication style (e.g. don’t use someone else’s past mistakes against them), but rarely do we think about how to deal with mistakes as a partnership.

In all relationships it’s important to recognize when you’ve hurt someone, lost your temper, behaved inappropriately, violated a boundary, or done something else that will damage the relationship. But those narratives make it easy to turn ourselves into awful monsters, or even to play a kind of a martyr card (“I’m the worst, most awful person ever” is really code for “reassure me that I’m good”). This can also lead into relationship tropes of who is the good one and who is the bad one. It’s easy to take on roles.

What isn’t as easy is admitting to a mistake and then working with the other person to constructively avoid the mistake in the future. What does that pragmatically mean? It means asking your partner (in whatever relationship) if they feel hurt or violated in some way and doing your best to rectify the current situation. Then it means taking the time to figure out why you did what you did. A lot of the time the ways we screw up with other people make sense. People get stressed out and tired, things push our buttons, other people are just plain hard sometimes. But even if something is understandable, that doesn’t make it justifiable.

So once you know the why you can look for ways to bypass that why. If you’re tired and cranky can you let your partner know in some way? Do you need to take space for yourself? Do you need to feed yourself or take a nap? It’s often easier to think about these things like you might think about parenting a child because the parts of us that lose our tempers are often rooted in childlike behaviors and patterns. What would you do for a little kid that was having a meltdown? Establish routine, make sure they’re fed and rested, and give them space to feel their feels.

And as adults we can go steps further to understand our own idiosyncrasies, heading them off at the pass. I get cranky when plans change at the last minute, so I try to make sure the people I care about know that and know to give me as much advance warning as they can when they want to do something. I also have worked to have backup plans or ideas in my mind. My boyfriend doesn’t like it when I’m on my phone or my computer when we’re doing something together, so he’s asked me to be clear about whether we’re just going to be engaged in parallel play style interactions or really be doing something together. In response, I have tried to be more engaged when we’re doing something together.

These things are work. They are the work of being responsible but also kind to yourself. Dwelling on guilt is harmful not only to yourself but also to your relationships. It’s easy to see relationship breakdowns as all one person’s fault or all the other person’s fault. If they didn’t do anything wrong, then I must be to blame. If I feel I did everything right, then it must be their fault for being hurt or upset.

Instead, imagine that each of us is trying to parent the kid version of ourselves. Sometimes we need some help with that parenting. And all of us make mistakes. It’s time to learn that what’s important is growing from it, not taking the blame.

Food As An Emotional Modifier

Some people eat when they’re in a bad mood. Most people, actually. Comfort food is a well known concept and we all have foods that are associated with home, safety, and good feelings. Some people don’t eat anything at all when they’re in a bad mood. Oftentimes depression can come with loss of appetite, and restrictive eating disorders are the extreme of “I feel bad I won’t eat”. Human beings use food to adjust and react to their moods.
For the most part this is considered unhealthy. Emotional eating is often at the heart of eating disorders, and many dieticians find that working with their clients to come to a healthy place with their emotions leads to a stabilization of diet. (FIND LINK) When we call someone an emotional eater, we don’t mean it as a compliment. Our thoughts/feelings are supposed to be radically separate from our bodies, and it’s unhealthy to seek out a physical solution to an emotional problem.
Except for the times when it’s not. Recently, I’ve started to try to regulate my emotions using food. “EATING DISORDER!” I hear you cry (or so I assume, I always cry out in distress when reading blogs). Well, not exactly. I’ve been trying to regulate my emotions using food by eating on a regular schedule, listening to what my body is craving, and eating until I am full. In addition to regular mealtimes, I’ve also been trying to notice when I’m getting cranky, anxious, sad, or otherwise unstable in some fashion and whether it has any correlation to how long it’s been since I’ve eaten. Guess what? It often does. I’m low energy and low happiness first thing in the morning, and I hit a low in the afternoon before dinner. Guess what these two time periods have in common? It’s been a while since I’ve eaten anything and I’m probably low on calories. Not having enough calories will make anyone more emotionally vulnerable.
Secret knowledge dropping time: our emotions are highly dependent on our bodies. Being tired, hungry, thirsty, cold, or sick will affect how you process what’s going on around you and what your reaction to the world is. Not all of these are things we can adjust immediately. If I’m having a bad day at work I can’t simply take a nap and feel more rested and thus stable. But I can go grab a snack or put on an extra sweater. I can use my body in a positive manner to influence how I’m feeling.
More often than not, things that are unhealthy for us are that way because they are extreme in some fashion. This doesn’t apply to anything (please do not go take moderate doses of arsenic), but for many things, we can use them positively if we understand how they actually interact with our bodies and minds. Exercise is another great example of this: too much or too little can throw us out of whack, but a moderate amount of exercise on a regular basis, and strategically applied exercise during times of stress can do wonders.
I don’t necessarily promote the view of the body that sees it as a machine (I think we’re far more integrated into our bodies than we will ever be with machines), but it can be a helpful metaphor when thinking of how to modulate your emotions. What kinds of things might this machine need to function better? Have I been getting too much or too little of any of the necessities? How can I make a small change right now to bring things back into balance. It’s not magic, but it is certainly a helpful framework for in the moment actions.

You Make Me A Better Person

A common sentiment about what one wants in a romantic relationship is that they want their partner to make them a better person. They want to be challenged and supported, and in some way asked to step up and be the best version of themselves that they can be.

I’ve always wanted this in my life, but “a better person” is a fairly vague phrase. It’s only recently that I’ve started to concretely see what this means simply by having someone who does it for me (not like that you perverts). The typical image of this is that your partner pushes you. They hear your hopes and dreams and they tell you to pursue them. They take care of you when you’re having a bad day and keep you positive when you’re down.

This is not what I mean when I say that I want my partner to make me a better person.

Until a couple of months ago I hadn’t written anything creative for years. I’d been fairly focused on blogs and essays, and hadn’t made time for short stories or longer fiction. Oddly, for most of my life previous to that I had always written creatively. From the time I was ten, I wanted to be an author and write fantasy novels. The drive to create is deeply important to me, and somewhere along the line I had forgotten that excitement and joy.

Until I met my current partner, who without knowing or intending, got me writing again simply by being excited about his own projects and interests. When I first met him, he started telling me about an audio theater project he was working on, and within a week I was writing again, inspired by his ideas. I become a better person when I’m around others who are engaged and excited about life, because they remind me of the things that I love and want to do with my life.  I’m happier when I’m with others who are doing what they love and when their loves remind me of mine.

For most of my life I haven’t been the best at communicating. I try to tell people what I’m thinking or feeling, but I second guess myself a lot and I’m a people pleaser, so I end up doing what I think other people want. My current partner doesn’t demand that I communicate with him or ask me to tell him what’s going on in my head when it seems like things are happening in there. He just communicates with me, and lets me know what he wants and needs. He clearly prioritizes a variety of relationships, not just ours, and lets me know that he cares about that. He models being a healthy human being.

And every time I see him communicating clearly or letting me know that he needs to spend time with his friends or doing something else that is emotionally healthy, I become more likely to do it myself. When I say that I want my partner to make me a better person, what I mean is that I want to surround myself with amazing people who remind me what it looks like to be awesome in all the ways that I want to be awesome. Of course I also want them to support me and challenge my ideas and talk to me about interesting things, but you don’t make your partner better by telling them what to do or simply saying words to them: you do it by being better yourself and challenging them to step up to your awesomeness.

And while some people love having a partner that exposes them to new things and gets them out of their comfort zone (and to some extent this is healthy for everyone), it’s also wonderful to have someone who reminds you of the things you love and why you love them. They make you more yourself by reminding you of those essential parts of yourself that you can’t live without: your loves and passions.

When I’m engaged creatively with the world, I’m simply a happier, more functional person, and it took my partner being his creative self to remind me of that. In all my relationships, I want people who remind me who I am in essential, lasting ways. This is what it means to me to make your partner better.

10 Real Reasons Not to Self Harm

Obvious massive trigger warning for self harm.

There are many, many lists and articles and comments and emails and conversations and every other form of interaction out there about why you shouldn’t self harm. If you have ever hurt yourself and anyone has ever found out, you’ve been subject to a litany of reasons. There are many good reasons to not self harm and lots of really stupid reasons to not self harm. Some people find the generic lists on the internet extremely helpful, but I have never been particularly convinced when I’m in a bad place. They come from a place that assumes I believe in my own worth, and when I want to hurt myself I’m rarely in a state of mind that recognizes that. At a guess, I would suspect that I’m not alone.

At this point, I’ve mostly kicked the habit of self-harm, and I think it can be really helpful for those who have been there to share what helped for them. So here is my list of real, honest to god reasons that I have stopped.

 

This post has been moved to my new blog at Aut of Spoons. Check out the list there.